Sure, you can prematurely call Antoine Fuqua’s newest film Die Hard In The White House Except Substitute Gerard Butler For Bruce Willis, but that would be a wrongful generalization on many levels. For one, that’s a silly name, and if you actually read that whole title, you’re therefore a silly person. Secondly, Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen does not match the quality achieved by one of the most legendary action flicks of all time, so don’t expect equal levels of unrivaled entertainment. Lastly, you’d also be a fool for writing off Olympus Has Fallen as just another generic explody action blockbuster.
Sure, this rip-roaring, patriotic adventure is undeniably flawed and unintentionally silly at times, but moments of true hardcore action manage to continually shine through. Fuqua went for gritty and he absolutely accomplished that, I just wish the script he worked with rivaled his red-blooded army of one.
Alright, before we go any further, get your whining out now. “But Matt, this is insane, the White House could never be taken over!” Yeah, I know, that’s why it’s a movie! Everyone on the crew worked very closely with numerous military and secret service specialists just so they COULD make this atrocity a reality, taking out certain measures we have in place that plug necessary holes. The truth is, we live in that perfect world where we actually have an answer to the actions shown on-screen, while Fuqua’s Hollywood rendition is more like a demonstration showing what could happen if these specialists didn’t think of damn near anything – and if Gerard Butler was a real-life, one man North Korean wrecking machine.
Get past the audacity and we’re left with explosions, brutal fist-fights, violent shoot-outs, evil terrorists, specially trained soldiers, a star-studded mega-cast, and an absolutely stunning performance by acting dynamo Melissa Leo.
Sure, the whole “Gerard Butler has to save the President” arc is a little overplayed and superhero-like, but that isn’t what bothered me. No, instead it was the horribly forced one-liners coming out of Butler’s character. Sorry Agent Mike Banning, you aren’t John McClane. No “Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother F*cker” type lines to be had, more like something as lame as “Yankee Doodle Dandy Mother Flubber!” Why is it that action quotes since the 80s have dropped off so mightily?
This especially disappointed because Butler seriously impressed with his physical action hero persona, roughing up baddies with pulverizing displays of ass-kickery. His moves were good enough to make me forget about the likes of Gamer and Law Abiding Citizen, but then his dialogue brought me all the way back down to The Bounty Hunter status. Personally, I thought Butler gave a strong performance from a leading man who really found his pair of action balls once again, but sadly he was supplied with the same old inexcusably cheesy dialogue, like some force-fed starving rodent. I just wanted them to stop feeding him so much cheese!
When you start discussing the other cast though, it’s hard not to get overwhelmed. On the surface, we get a sassy yet serious Angela Bassett who carries herself as strong as always, an empowered Morgan Freeman whose stoic presence commands decisions while his Vice President and President are held captive, a forceful Robert Forster who honestly just does what he does best, Dylan McDermott attempting to be badass and succeeding a little, and Aaron Eckhart playing an extremely physical and enjoyable President that I’d vote for in a heartbeat. That still leaves two more characters I really want to discuss in a little more depth though.
First off, Rick Yune (The Fast And The Furious/The Man With The Iron Fists) seriously comes into his own as Gerard Butler’s main opposition, Kang. Not only was he a physically intimidating and enjoyable villain for Olympus Has Fallen, but this is where I finally saw Yune establish himself against a cast of serious Hollywood talent. From his almost business-man like approach to terrorism and his much more superior banter when engaged with Gerard Butler, Yune made Kang a stand-out character among people like Butler and Freeman, something he should be extremely happy with.
Not to be out-done though, Melissa Leo brings the raw emotion and superior characterization she’s so well-known for to the role of Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan, and goes the extra mile for on-screen perfection.
There’s a scene where Leo is being dragged around part of the White House, saying the Pledge of Allegiance for the first bit of her “ride.” While watching the film I laughed but also thought to myself what an ingenious little touch, but then when I learned from my time with Aaron Eckhart that Melissa improvised the pledge during that take, I could only tip my hat to the actress. Throughout the movie she knows exactly what to say and how to deliver the most emotional performance possible, and endures a true beating in applaudable fashion, proving I should finally start my campaign to have Melissa Leo inserted into every movie – ever.
Enough about the cast though, what about Olympus Has Fallen‘s meat and potatoes - that action!
While absolutely deserving descriptive terms like gritty, realistic, tactical, brutal, overwhelming, bloody, momentarily gory, plentiful, and explosive, a small complaint of mine stems from the amount of CGI Olympus Has Fallen opted to use. I understand how much practical effects can cost, and I’m sure a bundle was spend on the makeshift White House that was built for filming and destruction, but going realistic for things like helicopters and gun-turrets would have went tremendously far instead of animating a turret to appear from the ground like in a child’s computer game – and obviously I might add.
These graphical additions weren’t hidden in the least either, which made a few shots stick out like a sore thumb and detract from the hard-fought battles Fuqua was able to create for audiences. Don’t get me wrong, Butler’s fight through the White House is a seriously action-packed bit of entertainment, and the close-combat brawls come off extremely more engaging than some of the bigger-scale outdoor battles, but crisper visuals and less CGI would have been welcome to Olympus Has Fallen.
The White House is one of the safest buildings in the country – and Antoine Fuqua destroyed it with a single movie. Was he the first? No, look to any natural disaster movie for that, or a movie like Independence Day, but will his version be remembered? Whether it stands the test of time will be discovered later, but for now everything is in play to make Olympus Has Fallen one of the stronger action thrillers of 2013. I’m not saying the best, and I’m not saying the brightest, but there’s an overwhelming feeling of simplistic entertainment and strong personality that makes this Gerard Butler ass-kicker a crowd-pleasing favorite. Tolerate the bland yet expected scripting, enjoy some of the stronger character work, accept the overly abused CGI, but I dare you not to let your passion for the red, white, and blue take over as Agent Mike Banning attempts to re-claim the White House from evil forces hell-bent on destroying our gloriously free nation.